Throwback Thursday: Bigger Guns, Bigger Headache?

5 scoped rifles bigger guns

Some folks like big houses, big trucks, and big guns. My 115-year-old house isn’t huge and suits me just fine. I am no longer raising children, and the grandchildren do not all show up at once. If they did, it would be a riot, not a party! My Silverado is necessary for some of the work I do, but I don’t really enjoy driving it in town and navigating smaller parking areas. The Jeep is far handier.

When it comes to guns, the argument for bigger guns isn’t difficult to make. Bigger hits harder. The problem is the bigger calibers often hit harder at both ends! Recoil isn’t as much fun as it once was.

Del Ton .308 right profile
The Del-Ton .308 will do the same work as many long-barrel, heavy .308 rifles.

As I get a little older, I see a lot of the friends and family downsizing both their homes and vehicles. Some downsize their firearms as their threat profile and physical ability changes. Let’s look at some of the better choices.

Alternatives to Bigger Guns

We may find that shorter and lighter firearms work just fine and are easier to carry and handle more quickly. I consider the work the firearm is designed to do as the bottom line in choosing a firearm.

If you are hunting deer-sized game, a humane kill — at the range you are capable with the firearm — is the goal. If you are hunting moose or feel that bears are a threat, then the firearm must be capable of greater penetration and shock.

In rifles, there are a number of calibers that are manageable by occasional shooters. Among the greatest American calibers, in my opinion, is the 7mm Remington Magnum. In an accurate rifle such as the Savage 110 and topped with a good scope, the 7mm Remington Magnum is a credible rifle.

For the traditionalist, the Mauser-action .30-06 rifle is a good choice. The .30-06 is very capable when loaded with heavy 180-grain bullets. With efficient loading and careful experimentation, I have discovered the .30-06 gives up little to the .300 Winchester Magnum, and in most ways is more efficient. On the other hand, if you are tasked with the chore of stopping a big bear that has proven dangerous, the .375 Holland and Holland looks better.

Bob Campbell shooting a M1A from a bench
The M1A .308 is a fast-handling .308 with much to recommend.

Most of us don’t need this type of power. The 7mm Remington Magnum is plenty for most uses. Remember, we are talking about the average rifleman who practices less than he should and needs a reasonably powerful cartridge that doesn’t beat him up and put eddies in the arm.

A novice should begin with the .308 Winchester, in my opinion, and work their way up. I think a bit of experience with smaller calibers and smaller game is a good thing. When you need a Magnum rifle and a flat trajectory over 300 yards, you will know it. For most of us in North America, the .30-06 Springfield is a wonderful choice.

For deer-sized game, there are good lightweight, fast-handling rifles that really make for enjoyable shooting. A quality .308 Winchester bolt-action rifle is a joy to use and fire. If you do not have a need for long-range gilt-edged accuracy, the Browning BAR Hunter semi-automatic or a quality AR-10 is a good choice. As for myself, a Savage 99 rifle in .300 Savage will do everything I need to do when hunting deer or boar.

S&W L frame revolver bigger guns
This S&W L-Frame is a nice shooting .357 Magnum.

For brush hunting and shorter ranges, the CZ 527 rifle in 7.62x39mm is very attractive — and very fast — even quick, and accurate. Rifles such as the CZ 527 and the Ruger American are fast-handling and friendly.

I think most of us regard the .30-30 Winchester as a starter gun, but many deer are taken cleanly with this rifle. The bottom line is that it is counterproductive to begin with and a hard-kicking rifle. Begin with a modest caliber and work your way up. When you get to the .30-06, you may have everything you will ever need. For many uses, the 6.5mm rifles will fill the bill nicely.

Bob Campbell holding a 12 gauge shotgun bigger guns
The 12-gauge can be brutal!

AR Rifles

The Armalite design, America’s rifle, is a type of special case. These rifles are always easy to use well, reliable, and accurate. Some are better made than others. They are fired more often than most because they are fun, kick very little, and offer excellent accuracy.

For years, I used a 20-inch barrel HBAR for precision shooting. The primary criteria for accuracy are a stiff and well-finished barrel. The trigger action is very important. For my money and personal use, the 16-inch AR is as accurate as the 18- and 20-inch guns in practical terms. Since most rifles now mount optics, a longer barrel and longer sight radius doesn’t matter as much.


I have to admit, the 12-gauge shotgun is at the top of the list for me. 12-gauge buckshot and 12-gauge slugs outweigh the lighter gauges. For personal defense and hunting deer-sized game, the 12-gauge works. In this case, heavier guns are indicated, as they kick less. Touching-off a Lightfield bear-killer slug in a riot gun is something you only wish to do once. Trust me…

For smaller game, upland birds, and with careful load selection even predators at modest range, the 20-gauge shotgun shines. As for myself, I find the 16-gauge semi-automatic shotgun an excellent choice for all-around use. For home defense and as a truck gun, the 16-gauge does the business without a lot of recoil.


Handguns are lighter than ever. The polymer-frame, striker-fired handgun is the norm. Aluminum frames are plentiful and even magnum revolvers are constructed of lightweight material, whether they should be or not.

Handguns are a different story than rifles. Rifles, such as the .30-06, dispose of more power than is really needed for the chore at hand. Handguns are another matter. They dispose of far less power than a rifle and what power they have must be delivered as efficiently as possible.

The handgun carried for personal defense must balance speed, access, and concealment with power.

.30-06 bolt action rifle with Fiocchi ammunition boxes for bigger guns
The .30-06 is plenty powerful for most needs.

Bigger Guns for Outdoors

For field use, no handgun may be too large to hunt with, including the .460 Smith and Wesson or .454 Casull. Most of my handguns are go-anywhere, do-anything handguns. I may carry the piece concealed, carry it when hiking, when in the wild, or when traveling. This demands a lot of power in some instances.

As an example, a .44 Magnum would be the go-to piece for hog hunting. For pure personal defense — with no other consideration — I may deploy a 9mm with +P+ loads. I most often carry a steel-frame 1911 .45, sometimes a Commander .45, and on occasion a three-inch barrel, steel-frame .357 Magnum. The .44 Magnum is for special use, but I find a use for it occasionally.

I have found that the 4 5/8-inch barrel Ruger Vaquero is practically as accurate as the 7 ½-inch barrel revolver, much easier to carry, and gets into action faster. As such, there is a reasonable compromise inherent between accuracy, control, and power.

Scoped CZ 527 rifle right profile
The CZ 527 is a neat-sized rifle with real accuracy that trumps bigger guns.

For personal defense, I think the ultra-light .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum revolvers are a mistake. I have yet to see one controlled in a firing drill at close range, and while some firearms are “carried much and fired little,” we must not be in the position of being armed with a deadly weapon we cannot use well.

I am not exactly a daisy and find the Smith and Wesson Model 60 and Ruger SP101 the lightest magnum that may be fired well (to my standards). The K-Frame magnums are much more controllable — the GP100s even better.

I don’t think getting a lot of power into the smallest possible handgun is always an idea that will survive the logic ladder. Getting controllable power into a portable and concealable package is a reputable goal. When it comes to the magnums, a good set of Pachmayr grips goes a long way in limiting pain and aiding control.

Artist rendering of a 20 gauge shotshell
For many uses, the 20-gauge is a top-rated choice.

Options for Self-Defense

Some of us don’t live where wild animals are a danger. I have not been endangered by the big cats, but I’ve seen their sign and had to stop large boar with the .44 Magnum.

When the threat is a biped, rather than quadruped, the Government Model 1911 .45 is ideal. While there are smaller guns that are easier to carry, the balance of power, control, and weight in the GM is excellent. While the Commander types are lighter with a proper concealed-carry holster, the GM is ideal.

And the load-bearing device is a sure key to comfortable carry. Other viable choices include quality 9mm handguns with the most modern loads. The 9mm is controllable and easy to use well. The light recoil of the 9mm invites serious downsizing.

I think that the most desirable size in a modern 9mm is found in the new Rex Delta 9mm. This handgun is more comfortable than the Glock 19 to fire well, but easier to conceal than the Glock 17 — a good place to be. This is a remarkable handgun in many ways well worth its price.

In modern handguns, the full-size 9mms (such as the CZ 75, Beretta 92, and SIG P226) are nice to fire, reliable, and oversized for concealed carry. The CZ P-01, Beretta APX, and SIG P229 are ideal-sized handguns. Take a look at the balance of power, handling, and concealed-carry potential in a handgun.

Look at the efficiency of the rifle and shotgun with a modest-length barrel. Consider the sighting equipment and the whole picture. Perhaps efficiency trumps simple size.

Do you prefer bigger guns? What is the minimum caliber you trust for self-defense? Share your answers in the comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June of 2019. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

  • 5 scoped rifles bigger guns
  • .30-06 bolt action rifle with Fiocchi ammunition boxes
  • Scoped CZ 527 rifle right profile
  • Del Ton .308 right profile
  • Bob Campbell shooting a M1A from a bench bigger guns
  • AR-15 rifle right profile
  • Artist rendering of a 20 gauge shotshell
  • several 20 gauge ammunition boxes stacked
  • Bob Campbell holding a 12 gauge shotgun
  • Bob Campbell shooting a 12 gauge shotgun
  • .45 revolver and .45 ACP semi-automatic handguns bigger guns
  • Black Galco N3 holster with Coogan handgun
  • S&W L frame revolver bigger guns
  • short barrel .357 revolver

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (23)

  1. There is a similar article in this issue.
    1. Id never hunt anything over a small coyote with a .223. I want things dead fast, not wounded or suffering.
    2. I cant believe anyone considers a shotgun for home defense. Big, long, LOUD, with large lead can go through walls.
    3. As someone mentioned, the .270 has great ballistics and so does the .243 but as mentioned ealier, if you consider EVERYTING about all clibers, you just cant beat either the .308 or the good ‘ol 30.06
    4. My favorite carry is the Bulldog .44 Special. Nice big hole for a bad guy to look at, hollow point on big slug does damage, and its not magnum so probably wont go through the perp and the next 2 houses too. Yeah only hold five shells but c’mon, how many people are in long firefights defending our homes?

  2. My minimum for self defense is a .40 S&W. With the right ammo a 9mm is a good choice but I still can’t shake the 2 dead FBI agents in Miami 35+ years ago. The 10mm is becoming a great hunting and defense round. I also like the .45ACP. As for the rifle, I like my .308/7/62×51 may try out a 6.5 Creedmore one day, but . 308 gets things done.

  3. Being blessed with becoming a member of the Old ah…(gas) club, like the author, recoil seems to be a lot more obvious now than it did it my youth, and recently while restocking an old 30-06 pump with a Remington polymer replacement stock that included the gel recoil pad (like limb-saver), the felt recoil is greatly reduced, and well worth the expense to now have it be a pleasure to shoot. To keep skills current, and have a lot of fun, it is really hard to beat the Ruger Rimfire Precision in 22LR, which I refer to as my typewriter, because when outside with the grandkids, we hang up an old PC keyboard, call our shots, and type our name. :-). Other than the volume of the 5.56, it is also a pleasure to shoot, especially in an AL configuration (Armalite Lefty), and adding a Flash Can, really works at putting that shock-wave downstream several more feet from your ears. As for MAGNUM handguns, I feel they should ONLY be made in ALL steel. As for concealed carry, people saying they carried the 1911 GM, I always thought I needed higher boots, until I tried it, and other than just the shear weight after a while it is surprisingly comfortable to carry, is so thin, more easy to conceal than originally though, and when pulled, is much more intimidating than a micro-carry. 🙂

  4. We got into pistols for defense after age 70, and so are on the down-slope of physical capability. The S&W EZ weapons (.380 & 9) are the most my wife can handle, due to effects of having both shoulders replaced. I still prefer a .45 1911 for shooting and “bedside” but realize an EZ is likely in my future too. A 1911 Officer is the largest I consider carrying, but even that doesn’t fit my normal mode of dress and comfort. So my constant carry is a Kimber Micro. It hides easily, and is light enough that I don’t notice it – unless I don’t have it. I’m more comfortable with it.
    We practice at a range at least 1 or 2 times a week to keep proficient with safe habits, making sure we use all the different guns we may have to use someday.

  5. I was introduced to the 45 caliber ACP and the 30-06 in the Marine Corps sixty years ago. It worked then and it works now.
    Semper Fi

  6. When I first started out on my journey with firearms, my mentor and guide had me carry the 1911 Government Model. Heavy and hard hitting, true, but I was 16 and I knew nothing else. A 12 guage Ithaca Riot gun was for serious crowd control and was our Poice Department issue. Those were the only two weapons I needed and that my mentor approved of.
    Later, on my journey with the military, the M14 became my main battle rifle but was soon replaced with a Remington 700 BDL in the same caliber. I was seen as someone who had more than a passing acquaintance with long range shooting and the military was very happy to advance my knowledge. All my time spent with the 1911 served me well there too.
    Back in civilian life, I found that a 1911 well tuned in Commander size did everything that I had to do “on the job” with the .308 in a closet reserved for the rare chance a hunt was joined. And my department was happy enough with my scores to allow me to carry that 1911 “on duty” as long as it was concealed under a blazer. That meant a promotion off the streets which I found to be a very good thing.
    But life changes as time goes on and at 50 I found a Springfield Armory Range Master 1911 the easiest to carry while providing me with terrific accuracy. In a fit of stupidity I traded it away and have spent the next 15 years trying to recreate what that “little lightweight” could do.
    Now I carry the Springfield Operator on my ancient and well broken in hip. Emphasis on the broken part. It is heavy, but shoots like a dream. I know that the Range Officer would be much easier to carry, and handle every bit as well, but my budget just doesn’t allow me to make that purchase, and my pride doesn’t allow me to trade off what I have locked away in my vault. Pride can be a terrible thing.
    Perhaps, a tax return (if it ever shows up) will prompt me to return to that commander sized piece of excellence in engineering, but I am afraid that I will fall victim to the much more pricey Nighthawk offering or similar. In .45 acp of course. Making that frame work in 9mm to me seems like blasphemy. if you want that in 9mm, that is why there is the Hi-Power! And if it wasn’t in such perfect shape, I would be carrying it everywhere. Pride again.
    Your article brought back many memories, good and bad, which speaks for your accuracy in reporting history. Thank you for doing that so often and so well.
    In the mean time, I will sit back and watch the economy and society go slowly insane, and be very greatful for my Operator. As for the M1A, that has been downsized to the M1 Carbine which has proven to be extremely fast on target, and with the ugly addition of a red dot sight a real pleasing group maker out to 75 yards. That is all I need. It has a similar Manual Arms as that M14/M1A which allows that heavily drilled muscle memory to come back to life from my youth to my now “golden years.”
    At the very least my grandchildren are impressed and I can still walk with honor at the range with the young bulls.
    A very good write, sir. Again, thank you for that trip down memory lane.

  7. If you have been following guns as long as I have, two issues jump out.
    1.) Folks 50 – 60 years ago got the “MAGNUM” bug, and quickly found out that a .300 Savage, .257 Roberts, etc. would meet 99% of their needs.
    2.) Modern manufacturing technology means that while a rifle that would shoot 2″ groups at 100 yards with factory ammo was outstanding ~50 years ago, now if it can’t do that 200 yards, then it is considered inaccurate. (Some Handguns can now hold 2″ at 50 yards.)

    At one time, elephants were hunted by professional hunters with calibers much smaller than a .375 Mag. When you can put 4 rounds into a soda can, then that is your effective range, A miss at XX yards with a “MAGNUM” is still as bad as a miss with a .22LR. Shoot with the gun that you hit your target.

  8. Controlability is the key for all weapons. A friend of mine who was a newbie to guns purchased a 12 gauge shotgun (that was an ordeal to get him to listen to me about finding the right one for him) and wanted to buy magnum buckshot rounds for it. He didnt want to listen that if you miss you want to have a quick followup shot which you wouldnt have with a magnum. At the range he figured out really fast I wasnt kidding. I also explained that at in home range no.6 was adequate for the job.

  9. It is an old and, to some, a trite statement but i feel it rings true.
    The best firearm you have with you is better than the fancy full-race plate killer you have sitting in the safe at home.
    Carry what is the most comfortable and accurate pistol you can.

  10. I don’t consider my self a gun guru but I am surprised that the 270 cal was not mentioned. It will put down anything in North America. However I really love my pre 1964 model 70 30-06. For personal carry I go to my 92 9mm and 45acp.
    Great article keep them coming

  11. While I agree with .45acp being the best self defense load for the 1911(with 10mm a close second) I actually prefer the commander for balance and point and shoot accuracy.

  12. In the AR15 platform, for deer or hogs, how about the 6.8 SPC? Some states, such as Colorado, don’t allow 5.56 or 223 for big game hunting.

  13. I am licensed to carry three handguns in my state. A 357 mag snub, 45 auto, and 380 auto. The usual carry is the 357 for the combo of light weight, concealment, and power. At age 75, I have found the 45 (a lightweight Glock) to bulky, heavy and uncomfortable to carry for extended lengths of time. The 380 is obviously the easiest to carry and is my pocket pistol (better than nothing).
    The bottom line for me is, if it is going to be uncomfortable I won’t always carry. Better to have a weapons to fit your circumstances so that you will always be armed.

  14. I use a .30-06 for hunting elk and African plains game, and I limit myself to 300 yards. I have a .375 H&H mag for African dangerous game, which is the minimum allowed caliber for this application, and would only use it at less than 100 yards.

    For pigs I use a 450 Bushmaster on an AR platform. It is good to 200 yards, but my last pig charged me from 10 yards, and I really appreciated having a semi auto in that case.

  15. When the discussions of more power more recoil in a handgun arise, I am continuously wondering why there is no one, to my knowledge, making a Creedmore pistol. With such reduced recoil it just seems to be a no braier. Any comments? THANKS!

  16. For hunting, deer and elk, I have settled in the mossberg MVP in .308. Shorther barrel, so it is quick and reasonable weight. The 308 loaded with 180 grain hornady sst does the job just fine. In my area, I have no need for shots outside of 150 yards.

  17. The 450 bushmaster upper on AR lower is nice but can only put 6 or 7 rounds in a mag without feed problems

  18. Subject – quiet air rifles

    Looking for quiet, accurate, simple air rifle.

    Way too many selections out there !

    Need to reduce grey squirrel population on my 1/2 acre property in residential neighborhood.

    Looks like best choice is .17 pellet, spring driven, barrel cocking, suppressed and 3 to 9 x 40 scope.

    Prefer German but would consider Ruger – and 5 to 7# max.

    But which make and model. Remember – quiet !

    Thanks, Chuck

  19. I carry a either a Colt Mustang XSP in .380 as a micro carry or a Sig p938 in 9mm again subcompact and they are top shelf edc. I prefer the 9mm with +P cartridge but standard 115 grain ball rounds are fine too.
    In an rifle the .308 is the go to for long range on a budget but in an AR platform I’m smitten with the .224 Valkyrie. I hit a target at 700+ yards that I could barely spot with our range finder. Tiny hole but these are screamers superior to the .223/5.56 going over a mile.
    But a perfect pair is ideal all round in 9mm that share the same magazines to swap out of a Carbine into a handgun and Glock is the answer for that.
    Power wheel guns I prefer the .357 magnum and 45 LC which I rarely get to shoot but I do like the cowboy guns being resurrected and will shoot more of those two pills.
    Honorable mention 458 Socom for destroying stuff and the trusty 12 guage slug.

  20. No disagreement on the ’06 or 308[308 for east of Mississippi,06 west of it]. Never looked at 7mmMag-’06 does just fine.I’d use a long tubed 375H&H vs 300Win Mag or 338WinMag.Close cover=slide action or lever action308W or 45/70]Prefer Glocks in 45ACP or 9mm,Ruger GP100 or Redhawk.Haven’t found S&Ws reliable..I stay away from muzzlelbrakes-excessive noise.

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